Tips on buying quantities for food preservation: Asking for seconds

You can ask at your local farmers market or farm stand for their less photogenic produce. These are often called “seconds” because they don’t match the look of first quality produce but contain all the flavor and nutritional value.

If you’ve grown your own tomatoes, you know that not everyone is picture perfect but they may still taste great if you cut out that spot or around those cracks. However, when you go to the farmers market or even the supermarket, you expect the produce to be blemish-free and of the best quality. What you see at most markets is the first or best-quality produce but there may also be “seconds” available.

Seconds (or “utilities”) are what growers may call the produce that doesn’t meet the first standard of quality or appearance. These fruits and vegetables may be slightly discolored or have blemishes. Most farmers will assume that a customer wouldn’t want to buy that food. Many customers carefully scrutinize the produce at farmers markets and will refuse to purchase anything that doesn’t meet the ideal of what is seen in grocery stores. If you’ve grown your own garden, likely you would eat a green pepper with a small hole in it, because you know how much labor and effort was put into growing it. Farmers at farmers markets often still harvest all their fruit and sort it out for the market. Farmers may have bruised or discolored fruit or vegetables for sale and might be willing to offer you a discount on the price. These fruits and vegetables will still taste great but you may need to carefully prepare these fruits and vegetables – paring out bruised or blemished parts of the fruit or vegetable and washing the skins carefully.

Ask your orchard grower or farmer if they sell “seconds” and what the price might be, explain what you are looking for and what your plan is for the produce. Seconds are especially great to use if you plan to preserve the food – either by canning or freezing – and making them into sauce, salsa or juice – because the appearance doesn’t matter as much with a cooked or frozen product. You can make your own tomato and apple sauces at home and experiment with recipes to fit your own tastes. Michigan State University Extension has extensive resources for food preservation and how to safely store, can and freeze vegetables through its Michigan Fresh fact sheets. 

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